I was talking with my friend Steve Lipman, who consults with students applying to schools in jazz or popular music. Our conversation turned to anxious parents of prospective music majors in their senior year of high school. Whether their children are highly proficient on their instruments or not, high-achieving parents tend to worry about how their children will fare in the college decision process.
I remember this time well. Like other parents, I wanted to see my prospective music major acknowledged for his many talents. I wanted the schools he was interested in to fight over him, and of course, to woo him with hefty scholarships. I was nervous.
It was the beginning of the development of what I call the “calloused tongue” — something that continues to serve me well, by the way, now that my son has his degree. I started biting my tongue more often when he was a high school senior, because there was so much I didn’t want to say aloud. I didn’t want to bias his search for good fit schools. I knew better than to pretend I knew what was right for him. Because I didn’t. It was not my “call” nor responsibility to make decisions for him. Despite the tension it created in me, letting him explore and determine for himself what he was most drawn to study and where he was most drawn to do that was essential.
I also felt that fierce “Mama Bear instinct” rev up again inside me, after lying dormant since he was a little boy. While I had to stand on a chair to look him in the eye, he was still my child. I wanted to protect him from disappointment and hurt. Thankfully, I learned through reading and talking with enough parents of older students to know that I couldn’t prevent my son from the not-so-pretty aspects of what any young person, let alone a musician, needs to learn on their own. My job was to start letting go rather than hold on tighter. It wasn’t easy.
Two things helped me through my prospective music major’s senior year of high school:
1. Recognizing that as much as I had no idea where my son would be in school the following year, I trusted that he would be somewhere. By May 1 (the final deadline by which students need to respond to offers from colleges), a decision would have to be made.
2. A book given to me by a family member who is a high school college counselor proved to be a godsend. “Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years” by two college admission officers, never left my nightstand until my son’s senior year. It always provided me with exactly what I needed to hear.
Students who apply to music school have a long, drawn-out application/audition process ahead of them. When their non-music friends turn in their applications and essays before winter break of senior year, the music kids are revving up for auditions. The process eats into their winter vacations and goes on through the first few months of the new year. It’s a challenging road.
For us parents, there are real economic issues at stake when our kids apply to college, as well as a sense of loss and confusion as they begin to enter this new phase of young adulthood. There’s no way around the fact that when your child goes to college, whether in another state or a mile from home, your life will change as will theirs. As parents, our job is to deal with our feelings rather than burden our already-burdened offspring with them. And to start anticipating the many positive aspects of having a music major for a son or daughter.